Fusion Brewday: TriplIPA Riff — Wonmisan Tripel IPA

On the weekend, a few of the brewers in Seoul gathered for a goodbye party for a brewer many of us have known and learned from over the last few years, Kevin. I brought a bottle of the OpperBacco brewery’s TriplIPA Speciale, a beer that I’d picked up in Rome on recommendation from the proprietor of the excellent Johnny’s Off-License.

We sampled it at the end of the night, which was probably not optimal, but the beer seemed to be well-received. Fitting with what I noticed about Italian craft brew — that there’s a marked Belgian influence — this seemed to be a pseudo-IPA with a number of Belgian Tripel characteristics: the yeast was, as far as I was concerned, very clearly Belgian. The beer had the mouthfeel, richness, and fruitiness of a good Belgian/Abbey/Trappist Tripel.

And yet, there was a strong hoppiness to it: not bitterness, mind: the beer was very balanced, but the hoppiness was mostly flavor and aroma. I was pleased to find that I wasn’t the only one who responded well to it, so I figured I might as well try out a riff on it. Not a clone: I don’t know enough about malt characteristics to really pinpoint what the grist was, nor would I have much of a chance to — I only had about a hundred milliliters from the 750ml bottle I brought with me, anyway.

(Not to grumble about sharing: I was very happy to do that, but it’s just the single, smaller servings we each had were too limited, I think, for a creditable guess at the malts used, even were I capable of such a feat.)

Not actually the exact beer we had: we shared the TriplIPA Speciale, which was about 20 IBUs higher -- 80IBUs in all, apparently, though I sure couldn't tell from the taste and balance!

But I like the idea–and challenge–of fusing a Belgian abbey-styled ale with a roughly American-styled IPA. I thought of something similar myself, a while back, but had no idea what such a thing might taste, smell, or look like. (I’d come closer with the pseudo-BPA I made, which had a nice strong Citra-aroma hoppiness to it (think tropical fruit) while being far from bitter; but with a higher alcohol, I can get even more hoppiness into the beer.) I like the challenge of trying to balance the drier tripel with the malty, hoppier IPA standard; I like the idea of trying to use hops that blend with, and compliment, the kind of aromas and flavors that will come from a good Belgian yeast.

So I decided to hold off on the other IPA I was planning to brew this week — which was to uses a kind of exponential curve in terms of hopping, ramping up with each addition to create an overpowering aroma — to brew up my own riff on OpperBacco’s TriplIPA Speciale…

Or, at least, a riff on the idea of the original TriplIPA, which I’ve never tried, but… well, I’m not scared of a high-50 IBUs beer, while something in the 80s has me pretty hop-shy. (Though, in the end, this brew ended up with something in the range of the mid-70s in terms of IBUs.) I use the word “riff” because I don’t think my beer will actually end up tasting like the TriplIPA except in the case of pure coincidence… but I would like to make a beer that, in the same spirit, fuses the Belgian Tripel with the IPA style. This is, again, a way of exploring the style I love — Belgian — while responding to the tastes of the brewers I know, many of whom are in love with IPAs.

Obviously, one of the important things to consider is the hop schedule. The bitterness needs to be smooth, so a first wort hop addition for the bittering hops is what I’ll go with; however, the majority of the hops will definitely go in during the last 30 minutes of the boil, and especially in the last 10. I’m going mostly with Cascade and Willamette, along with a burst of Citra at the end, and a little Saaz (for the earthy/spiciness) along the way.

The composition of the grist is another big question. I’ve jiggered the recipe a little bit from my original plans, adding some aromatic and a little biscuit malt to boost the maltiness and the flavor character of the base beer. (Normally, you want something drier for a Tripel, but I want a little sweet maltiness to balance the bitterness and flavor and aroma of the ton of hops I’ll be pitching into the boil.) There’s some Muscovado sugar, some Munich, some crystal, and a big base malt of Munton’s Pale–I’d have used Belgian Pilsner, but that’s not available and I don’t have any Pilsner malt at all on hand to begin with, and besides I’m excited to be brewing with Pale malt. It’s a pretty complex grist, but I’m hoping that will give me a pretty interesting beer in the end, too, especially with the effects of the yeast I’m going to use.

The yeast I pitched was Wyeast 3787 (Trappist High Gravity), in part because I have a smack pack that needs to get used, but also because it is supposed to have a strongly fruity easter/phenolic profile.

(I would prefer to make a starter, given the gravity of the beer I’ll be pitching it into, but I don’t think I have time at this point, especially not since I’d really rather just make a singel and then pitch the wort onto the cake. Since that’s out of the question, I think I’ll need to go with some good aeration, and then the (somewhat old) smack pack. Which is to say, I may have to pitch some of my other Belgian yeast into it, which is fine by me… it might result in a nice, complex culture I could use for other Belgian-styled beers.)

The mash temperature was also a bit higher than is usual for a Tripel, so that there’s more residual sweetness to balance the hops; I’m thinking about 67 or 68 degrees Celcius. This will allow a little more sweetness, without it being overpowering.

Anyway, that’s the brew plan. The recipe, which is pretty finalized, is here. However, I think I will be brewing this over the afternoon and evening tomorrow. I planned on making it today, but it looks like other things will take over: basically, I need a fermenter with lots of headspace for this beer, and that means siphoning my Saison into a carboy to clear… and harvesting the yeast. All that takes some preparation, so that’s tonight’s work, along with measuring out all the grains I need and getting things ready so that I can set the beer to mash when I go to my 4pm meeting tomorrow.

UPDATE: I’ve just brewed this, and it’s in the bucket with the yeast, and should take off in the next day or two.

A few things of note, not reflected in the recipe:

  • I forgot to add the Light DME (Dry Malt Extract) during the boil. That means the bitterness is a little bit higher than I intended, but it’s not revoltingly so, from the taste I had from the sampling vial. Missing this was purely a mistake, and I figure I will just add it like the other sugar additions I was planning to do. (See below).
  • I didn’t add the Muscovado and jaggery sugars during the boil either, but that was on purpose: the Trappist yeast I’m using responds will to incremental additions of sugar during the fermentation period, so I’m going to add the total of a kilo of sugar in either 200 or 250 gram increments, every few days during the primary fermentation. This means the wort is starting off at a mere 1.060-ish gravity, which is not so high as to be imposing for the yeast. I find that very reassuring.
  • The sample, as I mentioned, tasted pretty good, though of course it was weird to be pitching Trappist yeast into something that tasted not so very sweet to begin with. Unlike for a true Tripel, I mashed at a high temperature… I was hoping for some residual sweetness that might help balance the hoppiness. We’ll see what the result is; I’m regarding this as a test.
  • I read somewhere that it’s preferable to do big late hop additions with pellet hops. This is very true. I am in a funny position now having lost probably a gallon of the wort to the late hops. I can only hope that there’s a strong aroma resulting from it. Some of that lost water will get made up in the sugar additions, of course — I’ll be boiling the sugar in water to dissolve and sterilize it — but it won’t be a gallon in total, and if it was, it would only thin the wort, which is not what I want. Anyway, lesson learned: late hop additions should be pellet hops.

UPDATE (26 April 2011): This batch is fermenting away happily, at a somewhat elevated temperature now, which should make the yeast kick off some nice fruity esters (I hope!). I’ve been doing small daily additions of the sugars that need to be added, in 250 milligram increments. I’m all of the way through the muscovado I planned to add, and from tomorrow begin the Indian jaggery additions. There’s a lovely aroma coming up out of the airlock, as it has been all the way along, so I am really looking forward to trying this beer!

UPDATE (20 May 2011): This beer took third prize in the IPA category at the Brew Your Hops Off brewing competition in May 2011! I was, quite truly, shocked. I still want to tweak the recipe, and get closer to what I’m after, but this is encouraging. Will be adding gelatin finings this week, hoping to clear the beer a bit more.

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